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American Voices: Jon Meacham on religious reconciliation

Nearly half a century ago, during the Second Vatican Council, the Roman Catholic Church issued an eloquent document on how Christians should view those of other faiths, noting that: “From ancient times down to the present, there is found among various peoples a certain perception of that hidden power which hovers over the course of things and over the events of human history; at times some indeed have come to the recognition of a supreme being … this perception and recognition penetrates their lives with a profound religious sense.”

Humbly and wisely, the church added, “She regards with sincere reverence those ways of conduct and of life, those precepts and teachings which, though differing in many aspects from the ones she holds and sets forth, nonetheless often reflect a ray of that truth which enlightens all men.”  Such noble words; followers of the great monotheistic faiths would do well to heed them today.

Some would say that requires the changing of hearts.  My own view is that the surer route lies through the intellect. Extremists often derive their inspiration from literal interpretations of texts that should rightly be read not as Associated Press reports from the ancient world, but as theological and literary enterprises requiring independent intellectual assessment. What if “jihad” is really a metaphor for spiritual struggle? What if the work and words of Jesus can only be understood in context of first-century messianic theology?

The scriptures that shape us — and which feed conflict — are the products of human thought. So reconciliation begins, I submit, in the mind rather than the soul, though the two are neighbors with porous borders. The Second Vatican Council wrote, “The church reproves, as foreign to the mind of Christ, any discrimination against men or harassment of them because of their race, color, condition of life, or religion.” Here’s hoping all such thoughts of discrimination and of hate can become foreign to every other mind, too.

Watch the rest of the segments from this episode.